Having recently returned from the world of the Old West after liberating the mysterious Kung Fu from jail, you now face the next chapter in your journey. This time you are needed in 945 A.D. along the Norwegian Sea of planet Earth. An expedition is about to embark north into the frozen Arctic Sea, but scouts have returned with tales of colossal beasts that are lurking just below the ocean’s surface. Your equipment will be provided to reflect the time period, but it will be up to you to gain trust of the clan’s leader to lead the expedition. Rumors have spread from the scouts’ tale of a giant cyclopean eye four times the size of their longboats that currently sleeps. It may be the slumbering god you have been hunting through the cosmos.
Personally I don’t like running long campaigns because I run out of steam and ideas. It takes time to run a proper RPG. You may feel you can pick up your dice and just adlib the entire session, and that’s fantastic, but if you are meaning to have a decent plot, encounters, well-developed NPCs, and bridges with the characters’ background, you’re going to have to do some prep work. Unless we have literally nothing to do every day, finding time to take notes and get them prepared for next week’s session seems to always be put on the shelf for more important, real life issues. Generally I prefer to go on short, intense campaigns that last 3-5 sessions maximum. However, there is one concept that I’ve used with my friends with fairly moderate success that will allow for much longer campaigns: Rotating Dungeon Masters.
Perhaps you have already tried this. The idea is simple: every session or every couple of sessions, your role as DM changes to another person in the group. You take control over your character, and the player assumes role as the DM. That person then runs the session or a few sessions before they temporarily resign their role and resume their character. You continue enjoying your character and playing the game, free from having to come up with an idea of what to throw at your party next week. Eventually your turn as DM returns, but you have been able to play for several sessions to rejuvenate your imagination. While you are the DM, your character will take the support role of an NPC or simply wander off for a time before meeting up with the group at a later date.
Now the concept may sound easy, but making sure things run smoothly between DMs requires a little planning and setup. First, there is the issue of “DM Secrets.” These are the plot twists and storylines the PCs haven’t discovered yet. As a Rotating DM, either the secrets that carry over must be ignored by the next DM, or you must resolve that secret for the PCs before you resign your DM role. For example, if the PCs don’t know one of their traveling NPCs is secretly a vampire spy sent to assassinate one of the PCs, either give enough hints or opportunity for the PCs to discover the truth or keep it secret and hope the other DMs don’t thwart your plan by killing him off. Essentially don’t carry over huge plot events between now and your next role to avoid having things blow up by an unsuspecting DM. Feel free to run a few sessions before stepping down in order to finish those story arcs.
Unless agreed upon, your session (or anyone else’s for that matter) should not hinder or restrict the next DM. If your game runs through the frozen wastelands of the north, the next DM should not be forced to make an adventure progressing down to warmer weather. Assume between each session a bit of time has passed. It won’t be critical, and it should not be so much so that the PCs age significantly. It’s more like the episodes on a TV show like Hercules or Xena where each episode took them to another location, yet they never aged. Allow for story immersion to fall on the current DM’s desire.
Having a Rotating DM has another benefit that can be utilized. If the group is seasoned players, consider dimension traveling. The players are a part of a central hub that bridges any dimension in time and space. They are capable of journeying anywhere, but they have to remain restricted to the technologies and advancements of the time. Perhaps using the Prime Directive as a Golden Rule. This would allow for any of the DMs to run any RPG they wished. Not all of us enjoy running a traditional medieval fantasy RPG. I personally prefer running 1920s Call of Cthulhu. Some might enjoy running a game of Deadlands. But then how do you deal with character sheets changing each week?
The easiest is to plan out what settings each DM is interested in running and create characters for each. Assuming you don’t have a Rotating DM class of more than 4 or 5, it shouldn’t be out of the question to handle. For advancement, you can eliminate experience points and award levels based on the number of sessions. To reach 2nd Level, you must complete 2 sessions. Each character should be leveled at the same time to reflect the individual character’s progression as a person. Skills and various abilities would transfer as close and reasonable as possible. Some abilities will not be available in certain settings such as magic in a modern world. That is just part of the uniqueness behind this option.
If you are in a group that insists on divvying out experience points, then some conversion or DM “creative license” must be implemented. Assign a list of XP per level like you see in many advancement RPGs and adopt it to every setting that offers leveling characters. Generalize XP rewards that reflect similar situations to those rule books that are laid out clearly. For example, if the party kills a Wendigo in Deadlands (which offers its own format of XP) and you want to utilize Pathfinder’s XP advancement track of medium, then merely take an educated guess as to the difficulty and XP value based upon your knowledge of Pathfinder. This method is far more tedious, less exact, and can lead to arguments if the party objects to the decisions. Personally eliminating the XP system and merely rewarding them advancement in leveling per so many sessions is the easiest to go. There are some exception rule systems that don’t offer 20+ levels to advance such as Deadlands who only has 4 (I believe) or Monte Cook’s Numenera that would have to be taken in stride. Simply take a moment to reflect the maximum levels for each setting, if offered, and set up a ratio. For every 5 levels in Pathfinder, you go up 1 level in Deadlands. Numenera currently I believe has 6 levels, so every 3 levels in Pathfinder. Again this is all done before you begin the campaigns, so a simple chart on your character sheets will help you identify when your character advances.
The benefits behind this concept are considerable. First, you don’t get burned out as a DM. You remain fresh by only running a few times then breaking to play as much or more often. Your creative juices get reenergized by playing more and listening to other DMs share their stories. Everyone participating gets to experience what it’s like being a DM without tackling a long, drawn out campaign. Even newcomers can try their hand here by running a one-session adventure to see if they enjoy it. Rotating DMs also creates a new group each session. You’ll have one new player in your particular group to change play style up a bit. This allows for different relationships between characters, different reactions and behaviors, and completely different experiences throughout the campaign. Finally, you get to see a different style of game every week as we all DM differently. One person will run an over-the-top fantastical session followed by the next person running a modern horror followed by a session in Rome. It may all remain in one setting but shift regions from tropical to tundra and offer more roleplaying opportunities one session and nothing but combat the next. It’s a unique approach to a system that has more traditions than anything.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.